Sunday, October 13, 2019 – Pentecost 18

October 13, 2019  
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Pentecost 18 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 17:11-19

 

“Your faith has made you well.”

(Luke 17:19)

Jesus spoke the words to an unknown Samaritan leper.

“Your faith has made you well.”

The Samaritan was in a liminal place.

“Liminal.”

According to bing.com the word “liminal” is an adjective describing when one occupies “a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.”

I got the idea of using this term from a pastor who wrote a commentary on today’s parable that was published in the Christian Century (September 25, 2019 p. 19).

The pastor wrote:

“Jesus meets people in this liminal space of the border. Ten men approach    and ask him to have mercy on them. They are lepers seeking healing, at the     border between clean and unclean. They don’t want to be on the unclean           side—they want, they need, to be healed. They are tired of being separated      from families and friends. Then Jesus shows up…”

I grew up in a town outside of Rockford, IL, just south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. My mom’s younger brother and his family lived about 25 minutes north of us, just across the border on the WI side. I remember going to visit them and riding bikes on the county road, crossing back and forth over the state border. Back and forth. In WI. In IL. In WI. In IL. In WI…

Borders seem arbitrary. And yet they wield so much power.

Living in the first century as Jesus did, the boundary between clean and unclean was legal as well as religious. There were “laws of uncleanness” (“Clean and Unclean” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible” volume 1 p. 644). Apparently,

“The appearance of swellings, eruptions, and raw sores on a formerly clear skin has an uncanny quality, which to the ancient mind indicated the work             of evil powers or divine judgment on sin. The horrible effects of leprosy…   heightened the impression of mysterious forces at work…and brought them       into the realm of the unclean… which lasted until a cure was obtained or        the sufferer died” (ibid).

The ten lepers in this morning’s story lived in that liminal place, at the border between clean and unclean, waiting, hoping, longing for a cure.

Then Jesus showed up.

Note: all ten lepers were healed.

Note: only one was “made well” (Luke 17:19).

His faith made him well.

This man, formerly a leper now healed, knew God had acted in his healing. This man, formerly a leper now healed, knew God had worked through Jesus. This man, a Samaritan thus a foreigner, knew God had delivered him through Jesus. This man, formerly a leper now healed, a Samaritan thus a foreigner, threw himself on the ground on his face at Jesus’ feet giving thanks.

Where is your liminal place?

Where do you find yourself standing—on the threshold of something new or walking away from something old, or something painful, or something other you need to leave behind?

As you stand on that edge, on that border, in that doorway—do you find yourself hoping? Regretting? Excited? Afraid?

Remember, you aren’t alone.

God stands with you.

Your faith will make you well. Or it will make you brave. Or it will make you confident. Or it will bring you comfort.

We lost a friend this week, a sister in Christ who not only worked for us in the Clothes Closet, but was confirmed here at Our Savior’s years ago, and became a member here again a year and a half ago. Dawn Kinard, raised as Dawn Severson, died last Sunday.

I loved working with Dawn. She wasn’t the strongest person physically; she was frail. But her heart was huge. As Betty Linse said, Dawn had a hug and a kiss [on the cheek] for every woman who walked in the Clothes Closet.

As I described the work Dawn did for us in the Clothes Closet, I told one person that Dawn was Jesus for us. She was there with women who were homeless, offering them strength and hope. She was there for a woman who is living her life liminally, one foot in recovery from addiction, one foot back on the streets. She was there for a woman born in Nigeria, now living here in La Crosse. Dawn was Jesus in their lives, giving them love and hope and a shoulder to lean on. As I spoke to one of our clients, who was broken-hearted by the news of Dawn’s death, I promised her that we will love her as much as Dawn loved her. I intend to keep that promise.

Our theme verse for our Stewardship campaign this year is our first reading: our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Our help comes from the Lord—but it shows itself in the ways we live, one with another. As we stand on the threshold of our future as a congregation, our call is to be Jesus—our call is to touch others, to bring healing and hope, to love others as God has loved us.

May it be so.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 6, 2019 – Pentecost 17

October 6, 2019  
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Pentecost 17 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 17:5-10

 

If I asked you which parable from the gospels is your favorite (if you have a favorite), I’m fairly confident most people would not name the Parable of the Worthless Servant (which is the name of the parable we have as our gospel text).

For a few reasons, this parable is a rotten little story…

First, we cannot avoid the slave imagery that is used. Some translations of the story substitute the word “servant” for slave. They may be trying to avoid the reality of the reading; there were slaves in the first century just as there were in 18th and 19th century nations just as there are now. Our American history is stained by an economy that was dependent on slave labor. Our history as a nation bleeds into current economic and social structures that continue to create haves and have nots, some of which is dependent on race and culture. These are subjects that make people uncomfortable. We never want our collective sins to be “aired” so publically.

Second, who wants to think of God as a slave driver? As a master? The imagery is grotesque. Particularly because that makes all of us who follow God slaves. Likening discipleship to slavery is sickening.

Third, if we accept the imagery of slave and master, the conclusion of the argument is: the disciples (that’s us) get no reward for their labor. Even if the “slave” (and again, that is us) does everything the slave has been asked to do—the slave is still “worthless” (Luke 17:10).

How do you visualize your relationship with God?

Do you imagine yourself as a much loved child held in the arms of a loving parent? Do you imagine yourself working all day and all night in servitude to God, giving all of yourself and all of your time and all of your talent, with no reward?

Here’s a visualization of the text as provided by one scholar:

The parable assumes the hearer’s familiarity with the customs that controlled the lives of slaves in the first century. Like many of Jesus’ parables in Luke this one begins with the question “Who among you…? And expects a negative answer, “No one; it would be unthinkable.” The parable assumes a small farmer who has one slave who does both the field work and the household chores. The master would never say to the slave, “Come here at once and take your place at the table.” Instead, the [slave] would be expected to start preparing the master’s evening meal immediately after coming in from the fields. Only after he had served the master could the [slave] tend to his own needs. The master would not even thank the servant for doing what was commanded. (“Luke 17:1-10 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 9, p. 323).

This parable is making a significant point about God and about us as God’s disciples—an unpleasant point—God does not and will not reward our faithful discipleship. That makes for a great sermon, I say sarcastically.

But this is a sound, theological message. As the same scholar previously cited wrote: God owes us nothing for living good, Christian lives. God’s favor and blessing are matters of grace—they cannot be earned” (ibid Luke 17…).

There is good news in this.The good news is: we don’t ever have to earn God’s grace. God’s grace is a gift. God loves us. God forgives us. God frees us from any need to earn those things. God’s love is a gift.

A second piece of good news is this: if we do what we do for God, as disciples, because we think we HAVE TO in order to receive God’s love and grace, we can LET GO of thinking we HAVE TO. We don’t. There is no obligation. There is no reward.

So why be disciples? Why work on behalf of God? Why do things here at church or out in the neighborhood or in the world in the name of God?

The answer is two-fold.

First, because we want to. As God’s faithful children we want to love others. This is our way of saying thank you to God for all God gives us. Someone gives you twenty dollars you say “thank you.” God has given us God’s love. God has given us forgiveness of our sins. God promises to give us eternal life. Of course we say “thank you” in any way we can.

Second, because God asks us to. God asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves. God asks us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. God asks us to care for refugees and share our wealth. God asks us to sing songs of praise. God asks us to pray.

Our acts of discipleship are for God—not for us.

Our acts of discipleship are expressions of thanksgiving, freely given to God, for God, from grateful hearts. This is a blessing: that we are free to choose how we might respond to all God gives us, all God provides for us, all God offers us.

Thanks be to God always for this freedom and this love.

Sunday, September 29, 2019 – Affirmation of Baptism

September 29, 2019  
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Confirmation 2019

Philippians 4:4-7

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

The Affirmation of Baptism, also known as confirmation, is a rite of passage in the Lutheran tradition. If you ask any of our elders who grew up in the Lutheran church, they will most likely have stories to tell about their confirmation experiences. Stories of being tested by the Pastor in front of the entire congregation. Stories of having to “know your stuff” because the pastor wasn’t going to take it easy on them. Earlier in my ministry, I heard memory after memory from older adults of back when they were confirmation students and had to memorize the catechism in Norwegian or in German or in Finnish—depending on what community I was pastoring.

I have two distinct memories of my own confirmation experience.

  1. In front of my entire 30-some member class, I asked my confirmation teacher to explain circumcision.
  2. The day I affirmed my baptism, I was convinced I did not deserve to be there, nor did I deserve to receive communion. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe, it was that I didn’t believe myself worthy. At the time I didn’t realize my thoughts were deeply rooted in Lutheran faith and belief. I didn’t realize my thoughts echoed the writings of Philip Melanchthon, who wrote in the Augsburg Confession, Article 2, on Original Sin:            course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all [people]     are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and            Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and             again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
  3.             condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born
  4.             are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.
  5.             Since the fall of Adam all [people] who are born according to the

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

There are two messages here, and they seem contradictory. The first is of God’s wrath, God’s condemnation of sinners; the second is finding joy in our faith.

What reconciles these two messages is the gift of Jesus.

Jesus, given to the world by the God who loves the world in order to free the world from sin and death.

Jesus, our salvation.

Jesus, who is near.

Jesus, in whom we rejoice.

A professor from Cambridge wrote that when we consider rejoicing in Jesus, we aren’t thinking about a transient emotional experience, we are thinking about “a deep and lasting joy that comes through a deepening relationship with Christ; this joy is thus expressed in sharing his love and concern for others.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 11, p. 546) The same professor asked a question: “If many Christians today lack such joy, is this perhaps because they see their faith to a great extent as an individual matter, and so do not see Christian life in terms of mutual respect and concern or experience the love and support of fellow Christians?” (source above).

I hope that isn’t the case here, at Our Savior’s. I hope we understand and experience the deep joy that comes through a deepening relationship with Jesus found in a community of believers who share his love and concern for others.

I think it is in knowing the deep joy found in Jesus that makes the day a young person affirms his faith so important to all of us. Because we know, we know deep in our hearts that the love of Jesus is real—and we want the person who is saying yes to his baptism, who is saying yes to the promises of Jesus in his life—we want him to feel our joy even as we take joy in his faith. We want him to know his own joy in Jesus. That is our hope.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

Jesus is as close to us as the wine and bread we share. Jesus is here, in this meal. Jesus is here when we hear his words: “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you…” Jesus is here when we remember he said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin…”

Jesus is here for our brother Jackson. Jesus is here for his family. Jesus is here for all of us.

Jesus forgives us. Jesus loves us. Jesus frees us. Our relationship with Jesus lives in us as a community of believers.

We receive his love.

We share his love with others.

We believe in him.

And so we Rejoice in the Lord always.

And we pray for our brother Jackson:

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 – Pentecost 14

September 15, 2019  
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Pentecost 14 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Exodus 32:7-14

Luke 15:1-10

 

Moses was with God for forty days and nights.

Moses was with God forty days and forty nights, on the top of a mountain, in deep conversation.

Forty days and forty nights; Moses had a mountain top experience. While there, God gave Moses two tablets with God’s commandments etched on them, taking the time to describe each commandment to Moses in detail.

For forty days and forty nights there was only Moses and God, God and Moses. Those days and nights were (literally) sacred.

And then God saw what the people had done, the people left at the bottom of the mountain. Moses had left them there, alone for forty days and forty nights. The people did not know what had become of him (Exodus 32:1). The people begged Moses’ brother, Aaron saying “Come, make gods for us” (Exodus 32:1). Which Aaron did, melting their gold rings into the image of a calf. And he said to them “tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5). Early the next day the people rose and they offered burnt offerings and they made sacrifices to the golden calf (Exodus 32:6).

God saw what the people did.

God said to Moses, whom God loved and trusted:

“Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely…” (Exodus 32:7).

The God who told Moses to go down to the land of Egypt to free the Israelites…

The God who so loved the Israelites, that God caused plagues to visit the land of the Pharaohs…

The God who killed Egypt’s first born, both people and animals…

The God who told Moses to tell the Pharaoh to “let my people go”…

This God, our God said to Moses:

“Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely…”

They were no longer “my people” they were yours. They no longer belonged to God, they belonged to Moses.

 

God was angry.

God’s wrath was burning hot against the Israelites. God wanted to consume them. God wanted to start over, just God and Moses. God wanted to form a new nation.

God was angry because the people “acted perversely” (Exodus 32:7).

The people, who had been God’s people, had made their own god.

God seemed distant to them. God seemed far away. The Israelites needed something, anything. They made their own god.

Moses dared to speak to God, reminding God that the Israelites were God’s people. Moses reminded God that God had brought them out of Egypt; Moses reminded God that God had freed them from slavery; that God had saved them…

Moses implored God to change God’s mind. Moses said to God

“Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people” (Exodus 32:12).

Moses reminded God of a promise God made, saying

Remember Abraham, remember Isaac, remember Israel, your servants; remember how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’ (Exodus 32:13).

 

And then, only then did God change God’s mind.

 

We are wayward people. We join the generations of people who create our own gods. We create gods believing our gods to be more accessible. We create gods believing our gods to be more understandable. We create gods believing our gods to be closer to who we are and what we need.

We worship what we long to have and we worship what we possess. We turn from God toward other things, toward other acts, toward other people, we turn toward other others…

That is the definition of sin—those things, those beliefs, those temptations that turn us away from God. Those temptations we embrace.

We are a wayward people.

We are lost sheep.

We are like the coin that a woman lost.

The good news is: Jesus came looking for us.

The good news is: Jesus came to this world for us, for our salvation, freeing us from sin by sacrificing himself. Our sacrificial lamb saved us and saves us.

Each and every day we are freed from the burden of our own waywardness.

Because God loves us, God sent Jesus to this world to save us from our sin.

We are found people. We are free people. We are God’s beloved children.

 

And so we sing “Go down, Moses way down in Egypt land” knowing our lives are our Egypt. Our lives bind us. We need to be freed! We need to be freed again and again and again.

Freed from the sin that lives in us.

Freed from all those things and those thoughts that bind us.

We need to be found and freed by Jesus.

We are found and freed by Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Sunday, August 25, 2019 – Pentecost 11

August 25, 2019  
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Isaiah 58:9b-14

Luke 13:10-17

This morning our first reading is from Isaiah; specifically the reading is a portion of what is read on Yom Kippur, a religious holiday also known as the Jewish Day of Atonement.

The history of Yom Kippur dates back to the days when the Lord spoke to Moses and his brother Aaron, as recorded in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. In Leviticus, specifically in chapter 16, the Lord told Moses and Aaron how the people of Israel were to “atone” for their sins. In chapter 16 verse 5, the Lord said Aaron should “take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering…”

“He shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the
entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots on the two
goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. (Leviticus 16:7-8)

Hence our young peoples’ message. The goat for the Lord was sacrificed as a sin offering, the goat for Azazel was sent into the wilderness as an atonement.

Atonement. It is derived from the phrase “at one.” “To be at one with someone is to be in harmonious personal relationship with” the person (“Atonement” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume 1, p. 309).

Rabbi Shai Held, president of the Hadar Institute in New York, wrote

On the Jewish Day of Atonement, the prophetic reading lands
like a stick of dynamite upon the congregation. By late morning,
when Isaiah is read, most of us are hungry and thirsty and perhaps
a little irritable from fasting. We’re right smack in the middle of
the holiest day of the year, a day centered on the hard work of
repentance and the joyous possibility of forgiveness, when the
words of the prophet come thundering at us, questioning just
what it is we think we’re doing in God’s house”

(“Living the Word: August 25” in Christian Century August 14, 2019 p. 18)

Just what is it we think we’re doing in God’s house?

The question sounds a little like the religious leader who challenged Jesus when Jesus healed the woman who had been unable to stand upright. The leader said

to the crowd who saw the cure: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” (Luke 13:14). In essence, the leader was asking “Just what does he (Jesus) think he’s doing?”

How did Jesus answer the question?

Jesus answered with a question of his own: don’t you untie your donkey or your ox to lead them to water, on the Sabbath? If you can do that, why can’t I free this woman from her bondage in order that she might live?

Really, what Jesus is talking about is a matter of the heart. As is Rabbi Hart in the Rabbi’s commentary on our reading from Isaiah. The Rabbi explained this when the Rabbi wrote:

“Self-awareness can be hard to come by. We may believe ourselves
entirely sincere. Yet the prophet [Isaiah] has his doubts, so he offers
a kind of test: if our fasting comes coupled with a passion for justice
and a heart full of kindness, then our religious lives have integrity (source
cited above). If, on the other hand, our fasting convinces us that God is
in our pocket, then our religious lives are a scam, and God wants no
part of them.” (source cited above).

God cares about the burdens people carry, burdens that weigh people down, burdens that bind people, preventing them from living freely.

God wants us, as God’s followers, to care about the burdens people carry. God wants us to feed the hungry because hunger is a burden than weighs people down. God wants us to help heal peoples’ wounds because those wounds prevent them from living freely.

Jesus healed the bent over woman on the Sabbath because she was crippled, she was bound; her life was diminished. Her freedom and dignity was of much higher value than the need to keep order by properly observing the Sabbath. Jesus atoned for the sins of the world when he died and rose again, proclaiming victory making us “at one” with God.

Do we have a passion for justice? Are our hearts filled with kindness?

God promised the Hebrew people that

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
1if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
          God will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

May this blessing fall on our hearts; that our lights rise in the dark and shine, bright as the sun at noonday. Amen.

 

Sunday, August 18, 2019 – Pentecost 10

August 18, 2019  
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Pentecost 10 2019

Luke 12:49-56

Jeremiah 23:23-29

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

 

“Am I a God nearby, says God, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24a).

 “Is not my word like fire, says God, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

 Jesus said: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49)

 

When you know, really know, the power of God that power can be terrifying, terrifying enough to want to hide from it.

I don’t mean terrifying as in “I’m afraid I’m going to get hurt.”

I mean terrifying as in “I’m afraid of being overwhelmed.”

God’s word is like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces.

Jesus came to bring fire to the earth.

 

During our ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly some incredible decisions were made. The Assembly approved a Social Statement on Faith, Sexism and Justice which names patriarchy and sexism as sins.

The Assembly adopted a Declaration of Inter-religious Commitment, witnessed by 39 ecumenical guests from around the world.

The Assembly authorized ELCA World Hunger to spend $21.5 million in the year 2020.

The Assembly adopted a Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA.

The Assembly presented a Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent.

The Assembly adopted 26 memorials on subjects ranging from gender identity to seminary tuition.

The Assembly adopted a memorial calling the church to create a Social Statement of the relationship of church and state.

The Assembly Adopted a memorial encouraging congregations to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the ordination of women, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of the decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.

The Assembly moved to support the vision and goals of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.

The Assembly adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declared the ELCA a sanctuary church body.

That’s a lot of decision-making. Those are a lot of commitments. Our Church is on fire, carrying the fire Jesus kindled into the streets and the homes and the communities we live in.

There are those who might wish we could hide from these things. There are those who fear those things we do as a church will cause great division. There are those, perhaps some of you, who disagree with the decisions made and who feel distanced by them.

Jesus was not kidding when he asked “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?” And then answered his own question, saying: “No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).

Jesus said “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided father against son…mother against daughter… (Luke 12:52-53).

And just so, households have been divided for centuries, not agreeing on the meaning of Jesus for the world and the power of the Word in the world.

“Is not my word like fire?” God asked (Jeremiah 23:29).

How do we live when our “house” is divided?

A few years ago there was a division in my immediate family.

My older brother believed I had done something that would have had a significant effect on one of his daughters. He was livid. He believed in his heart I had done this thing. He accused me in a phone call, angry and hurt.

I didn’t do what he thought I did, I couldn’t have; I didn’t have the power to do what he thought I did. But he was so hurt and so angry, he wouldn’t listen to me.

My other siblings heard about his accusations and some believed him. Some stayed neutral. My parents tried to heal the hurt.

Our division broke their hearts.

It lasted over a year.

My first inclination was to constantly defend myself. That didn’t work. So I put up healthy boundaries, kept a distance, trusting that time would prove I hadn’t done what I was accused of doing. Which it did. Eventually my brother apologized. And my parents rejoiced.

Divisions need not destroy families, they need not destroy communities, they need not destroy congregations, they need not destroy God’s Church on earth.

If we model the gifts God has given us: patience, kindness, respect and love—even if we never agree on the meaning of Jesus for the world and the power of the Word in the world… we will be ok.

We will be ok if we

“Lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely”

And we

“run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019 – Pentecost 9

August 11, 2019  
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Pentecost 9 2019

Luke 12:22-34

Our Savior’s La Crosse

From Blossoms
(…as if death were nowhere in the background…)

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee

 

A “brown paper bag of peaches” “bought from the boy at the bend of the road.”

(from the poem “Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee).

How many times have you bought a peach, or a bag of peaches, imagining the jubilance of your first bite?

Summertime is time for peaches, time for watermelon, time for corn on the cob from the yellow truck, time for luscious raspberries and giant juicy tomatoes.

The days are hot and sometimes humid but these hot days bear fruit. Luscious, gorgeous fruit.

As our cover poem states: “There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom” (Li-Young Lee).

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;

yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field,

which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,

how much more will God clothe you?

And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink

and do not keep worrying.

Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

(Luke 12:27-31 excerpts)

 

We worry.

Violence fills the world. Death comes to children or their parents as their parents attempt to protect them. Families are separated. Immigrants are called invaders.

Black people, brown people are thought of as “less” not as equal. There is fear of those who are “other.”

And we worry.

Our worries and our fears stand in bold contradiction to the luscious days of summer when we hope to, when we want to live from “joy to joy to joy” (Li-Young Lee).

As followers of Jesus Christ we must show the world the truths Jesus taught us.

Now, in these days of anxiety and fear and violence and death, if we are to recover life’s joys we must show the world, we must proclaim to the world the truths Jesus taught us.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

Scripture is clear:

Jesus taught us the most important law written upon our hearts, is the law to love one another.

In John 15:12 Jesus said “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”

In John 15:17 Jesus is said to have said “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Love lies at the heart of our faith. If we live the love Jesus calls us to love, we must speak out against violence, we must speak out against injustice, we must speak out against inequalities…

I asked a few weeks ago “Where is the love?”

My answer today: God’s love lives in us; we must allow God’s love to live through us. God’s love will bear fruit in us and through us if we allow God’s love to live and to thrive.

Today we pray as Christians have prayed Sunday after Sunday, year after year, generation after generation “deliver us from evil” (Lord’s Prayer).

The violence that lives in our world is evil. Domestic terrorism is evil. Separating children from their parents is evil. Closing our borders to brown people is evil. Racism is evil. These are evil acts that turn us away from God.

The love of Jesus Christ conquers evil. The love of Jesus Christ opens hearts. The love of Jesus Christ brings people together. The love of Jesus Christ cannot and it will not divide us.

We must be bringers of that love.

We must live God’s love in all that we say and all that we do and all that we are.

God’s love brings to the world days when we can “live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom” (Li-Young Lee).

We must not fear the happenings in our world. We must trust in God and in God’s gift of love for the world. And then we must share our trust in the power of God’s love with all people.

This is our call. We are not alone in this call. God is with us, guiding us.

Have no fear.

In all things God works with us and through us.

And then there is joy. There is “joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to impossible blossom” (Li-Young Lee).

Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2019 – Pentecost 8

August 4, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 8 2019

Luke 12:13-21

Our Savior’s La Crosse

 

God needs us.

Last week I began my sermon saying “We need God.”

This week I want to flip the coin: God needs us.

Our need for God is corporate and it is personal.

God’s need for us is the same.

God needs each of us to commit ourselves to being God’s disciples, God’s workers here on earth.

And God needs us, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, to serve God as a community even as we witness to God in our community.

When we looked at the Lord’s Prayer last week, I pointed out that, as a community we ask for three things in the prayer:

That God give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3).

That God forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4)

That God not bring us to the time of trial (Luke 11:4) aka lead us not into             temptation.

Looking at our gospel reading this week, it is clear that, even as we ask God for food, for forgiveness, for deliverance from evil, God asks us to be God’s servants in those things for which we ask.

For example:

Give us each day our daily bread.

This prayer petition voices a global need: in order to live we need to eat. Not just we humans, all species need to eat. So, what are we asking for when we pray “give us each day our daily bread”?

Literally, we are asking for enough for this day. Give us each day

Today’s gospel reading makes this clear when Jesus tells the story of the rich man. The man was a farmer whose farm produced food in abundance. The man’s farm produced so much food the man had no place to store it all. So, what did the man do? The man decided to build bigger barns so he could keep all of the grain for himself. He wanted, maybe needed to have enough grain to feel secure enough to be able to sit back and say to his soul “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). According to Jesus, in his story God spoke to the rich man and said to him “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).

The rich man had no thought of his neighbors or of their needs. The rich man was only thinking of himself. He had no thought of sharing with others that which he had in abundance.

The moral of the story for us is this: We cannot just ask God for our daily bread, we need to work with God so that all people have daily bread. This means that, for those who have in abundance, our obligation is to give from our abundance to others, because we have been given much. For those not living in abundance, when our needs are met, we can work with those who have much to give, ensuring there are laborers in abundance who can provide for those who needs have not yet been met.

Another example from the Lord’s Prayer:

Forgive us our sins.

As baptized children of God, God’s grace overflows in our lives. Waters of baptism have cleansed and redeemed us. Each and every day we are promised we can rise to the day confident in the knowledge God has forgiven us. There can be no doubt. Our sins are forgiven.

Knowing God has forgiven us our sins, knowing that we have been washed by the waters of baptism, we are called as God’s children to love others as God loves us. Our call to love obligates us to forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness does not imply we are to forget the hurts they may have inflicted. Forgiveness does not mean we cannot protect ourselves from ever being sinned against again. Forgiveness calls us to right relationship with those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness calls us to know that every person is a beloved child of God, forgiven their sins just as we have been forgiven ours. The forgiveness of our sins calls us to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Our final example:

Lead us not into temptation.

Temptation toward evil is prevalent, it is prominent, and it is powerful. The whole reason we need forgiveness in abundance is because of the power of evil, it is because of the power of all that is evil that tempts us. We must not fool ourselves. Everything that turns us away from God, everything that is sin, is there tempting us. And we so often give into temptation.

Our call as children of God who choose to follow Jesus is to reject sin, and to join hands with others who are equally as tempted by evil, that they too reject the sins that turn them from God.

This morning we hear, as we receive God’s word, a call to give even as we are given. To give food. To offer forgiveness. To protect others from evil.

Our call is to offer to others that which we ourselves receive from God.

Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019 – Pentecost 7

July 28, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 7 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 11:1-10

We need God.

Let’s be honest with ourselves; our need for God brings us to church week after week, for some of us year after year.

Notice what I am NOT saying. I am not saying “I need God.”

I am making a corporate statement. I am naming the needs of the community.

We need God.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus didn’t teach them a prayer to use in private moments. Jesus did not teach them a prayer for individual supplication. Jesus taught them a prayer for them to pray together.

“Our Father…”

I know, in Luke the reading begins simply with “Father” (Luke 11:2). But there is a footnote added to scholarly texts, noting that “Ancient authorities read “Our Father in heaven” (NRSV).

“Our Father…”

I don’t often use gender specific language for God, but I cannot escape it here. Jesus is being quite specific with his word “Abba.”

“Our Father…”

Our God.

In our prayer we as a community ask for three things:

That God give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3).

That God forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4)

That God not bring us to the time of trial (Luke 11:4), aka lead us not into temptation.

We ask for bread to eat. We ask for forgiveness. We ask for deliverance from evil.

We ask together. We ask as a community when we pray “Our Father.”

When I take communion to people who have memory loss, I am never surprised by their memories of our words of corporate confession, and I am never surprised when they join with me, word for word, as we say the Lord’s Prayer together. If we say those words often enough, they become a part of who we are, as if they are tattooed on our hearts.

“Our Father, who art in heaven… hallowed be thy name.”

Our God, your name has been sanctified. Our God, your name has been made holy.

God’s name is holy here, in this community as we gather… as we pray. Just as God’s name is holy in every community of faith around the world as they pray the words we have all been taught to pray: Our Father…

Think about this:

The kingdom, the power and the glory are God’s!

Our prayer is a declaration as much as it is a request.

All of this… all of this is yours, God.

You have power in our lives, God.

To you is the glory, now and forever, Abba.

We need God. We know we need God.

This community of faith is built on our knowing that we need God.

This community of faith is built on our knowing that we need God to provide daily bread, not just for us but for all people.

This community of faith is built on our knowing that we need God to forgive us our sins, not just today but every day of our lives.

This community of God is built on our knowing that we need God to turn us toward God, to turn our hearts and minds toward God; we need God to deliver us from evil.

Now think about this:

The Lord’s Prayer might be one of the only things we have in common with every person who ever has, who ever does, whoever will know themselves as followers of Jesus. There are so many traditions associated with Christianity that are variable—we sing different songs, we dance or we don’t, we sit and stand or just sit or just stand, we read scriptures that have been translated by different scholars to mean different things, we focus on different aspects of scripture, we have different understandings of who God was and is and will be, we even share communion according to our traditions and cultures. But the Lord’s Prayer has a basic framework that is common to us all. We may or may not end it in the same place and we may or may not use contemporary forms. But the claims and the requests and the corporate character of the prayer has been, is, and always will be the same.

The Lord’s Prayer ties us to other believers more than just about any other aspect of our faith.

Which makes the words of the prayer sacred. The words of our prayer are holy.

The words of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples are a sacred gift given to us all.

And so I pray:

Abba, thank you for teaching us to pray.

Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019 – Pentecost 6

July 21, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 6 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 10:38-42

 

She was one of my favorite people. She was an excellent writer, she had an incredible sense of humor, and she loved God. Sometimes she and I would go for walks together, telling stories and laughing.

One evening she invited a group of people to her home, including me. We had a wonderful meal, wonderful conversations flowed around the table. My only sadness was—and please note I am not saying it was a mistake or a problem, I’m saying it was a sadness—the hostess that evening, who cleaned the house and prepared the meal and set the table, did not set a place for herself at the table. She was back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, serving the rest of us. She made each one of us feel like what we were: her special guests. And I know, it was her choice to do that. But, the truth is, as much as I appreciated all of her efforts, I missed having her at the table.

Now, imagine one of us having Jesus over for supper!

Imagine the weeks of preparation we would put ourselves through. I would be weeding the gardens in case he goes outside. I would Wash floors, wash windows, clean tables, wash tablecloths… I would dust! I would sweep the driveway and mow the yard.

Then– planning the menu! What would I serve Jesus? Would I place a loaf of bread and a fish on the table and wait for him to perform a miracle?? Would I serve a pitcher of water, knowing he could turn it into wine, saving me a few bucks? Would I fix dessert?

In our gospel reading, when Jesus arrived for dinner Martha was busy with all of the tasks one engages in when someone is coming. And, as a person with two sisters, I’m saying, doesn’t it just figure—her sister Mary wasn’t helping. At all. Mary sat herself down at Jesus’ feet and listened. Martha complained.

If I was Martha, I would have complained.

Last week I talked about “behaving ourselves into love” (Berkey-Abbott, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in the Christian Century, July 3, 2019, p. 18), suggesting gratitude be an alternative to rage or frustration.

With that in mind, I’m wondering what Martha might have been grateful for, and if gratitude might have changed the choices she made when Jesus entered her home.

If Martha welcomed Jesus with gratitude she might have been giving thanks for his decision to enter her home. And perhaps she did.

If Martha welcomed Jesus with gratitude she might have been grateful Mary was there to listen to Jesus while Martha worked.

If Martha welcomed Jesus with gratitude I don’t think she would have said “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40b).

The author of the commentary I used as a source for my sermon last week wrote in her commentary for this week: We often get so consumed by the chores of daily life that we neglect to notice the sacred in our midst” (Berkey-Abbott, “Reflections on the Lectionary, in the Christian Century, July 3, 2019, p. 19).

Where is the love?

I read something interesting two weeks ago. R. Alan Culpepper wrote

“Neither the story of the good Samaritan nor the story of Mary and Martha  is complete without the other. Each makes its own point—the Samaritan loves his neighbor, and Mary loves her Lord—but the model for the disciple is found in the juxtaposition of the two. To the lawyer Jesus says, ‘Go and do,’ but he praises Mary for sitting and listening. The life of a disciple  requires both” (Luke 10:38-42 “Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible,       vol. 9, p. 232).

We are called to do both.

There are times meant for being busy, meant for chores and doing and “acting ourselves into love” (Berkey Abbott ibid p. 18)

There are times when we need to stop, when we need to listen, when we need to make ourselves aware of the sacred in our midst.

Discerning which time is when is the challenge.

I have decided the best way to meet that challenge is to begin with gratitude.

I have been determined to meet moments with gratitude this past week. And, although I haven’t been perfect at it, this new discipline has helped me.

I am grateful for friends who have made or do make or will make me laugh. I am grateful for meals shared with others. I am grateful for my sisters, who I love. I am grateful for each of you as we begin our third year with me as your pastor. I am grateful for the call we have received to love one another and the ministry we do in God’s name. I am grateful for this day, for this morning, for this time to worship and to share a meal together.

Thanks be to God for all that has been; thanks be to God for all that is; thanks be to God for all that will be.

Amen.

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